Time spent on reading a comic book page vs. level of detail and dialogue

Mainstream comics of today have grown in complexity of details in their images,compared to their dialogue.  Modern super hero comics dictate a larger component of their resources to their imagery, as compared to golden aged comics. An example of this is a comparison of the two covers from the batman media.

Batman #156 – June 1963                          -	Red hood and the outlaws #17 – February 2013

Here, the two pictures are pretty much displaying the same subject but the art themselves is vastly different from each other, looking at the level of color in the golden aged comic shows a simple palate compared to the newer Batman which has a higher level of palate diversity.  Also, the shading used in the golden age Batman is simple and almost completely absent in some areas, whereas shading is heavily focused in the recent cover.  Another aspect of the comparison between the two is the level of text, existent and non-existent. Here, without text no attention is diverted away from the image.  Without this diversion, does that mean we spend less time on that image?

My main concern is whether or not text in comics helps to emphasize the lack of attention readers give towards images in comics.  On average, most people read at a rate of 250 words per minute, yet this number comes from pure text media. When there are images involved however, I predict that this number will drop.  In other media for example movies, the director wants you to enjoy the scene at the rate in which the director wants you to enjoy it. In comics, you have the power to enjoy the image for as long as you like, but most average readers only give images a glancing view before turning the page.  The amount of time artists put in towards their images, have no pay off with the amount of time a reader looks at their work.  However, images with less detail but large quantities of text garner more time, thus in my argument a larger payoff.  Payoff to me in this case is the amount of time the reader spends compared to the amount of time the creator spends on the work.

Watchmen #8 April 1987

Taking a page from Watchmen, here this image has 289 words meaning it would take an average reading about 69 seconds to read from top left panel all the way down to the bottom right panel, reading just the words only and not viewing the images.  Yet, looking at the level of detail on the page, many panels are very lacklustre and uneventful. Still because there are images, you will take more than 69 seconds to read, the images add more of the reader’s time to the page.

X-men #5 - 11/17/10

In total contrast, the image above from X-men (#5 – 11/17/10) is solely image based. How long did you spend looking at the image before continuing on? Was it 69 seconds?  It’s highly doubtful. Still assuming the payoff is the amount of time spent on a page, compared to work spent, the artist has created a severe deficit. This deficit doesn’t mean that the image isn’t good or that it isn’t intricate, it’s just plainly the result of how readers view a page.  So should there be an introduction of text to the page to grab more time from the reader per page? Or does that take the impact away from the scene?  Coming back to the Batman covers, should there be text on both? Or is that type of payoff irrelevant?

– Ben Wong

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7 Responses to Time spent on reading a comic book page vs. level of detail and dialogue

  1. xycai says:

    You’ve made a very interesting point. However, I believe that people often glance over the images before flipping the page (myself included) mainly due to the fact that they are anxious of what is going to happen next. To put it in another way, they often read the comic for its story line and plot. After I finish with a comic book for its story, I would often read it over again a couple of times, but pay more attention to the pictures and details in each panel. It is by no means to say that the art drawn by the artist does not capture my attentions. It is just that the first time reading over the comic book, I often focus more on plot progression, and focus more on “what is going to happen next?”. I think the same concept holds true for people reading novels. A lot of the people will often glance and skim over a novel for its plot, and often misses details that the author has put into the book. However, unlike a novel, I think a comic book often have a better re-read value because of its beautiful artwork and illustrations, and that is one reason why I enjoy reading the same comic book over and over again.
    -Xiao Yue Cai

    • jneary says:

      I’ll have to agree with you there, Xiao, and the rereading part of engaging in comics (from any culture) is highly important. Obviously, the more text to read, the more time one will spend on it (hopefully, I mean…it’s there for a reason), however, especially in action sequences, the page turning is much more rapid, meaning that not just the layout, style and absence or presence of dialogue/text is a factor, but also the scene itself and how well it holds the readers’ attention.

      When I first read Watchmen, it was slow going, but certainly gave me a lesson in patience because of the integrated work of the details in the panel relating to the text — symbolic placements of photographs, contents in a refrigerator, the title of a magazine. I don’t think I really appreciated those details until my second reading; sometimes the dialogue of Rorschach and Dr. Manhattan was just too engrossing for me to really notice other small things. Even in action sequences, wanting to see how the action followed from one page to another, my mental checklist was mostly: who’s alive, what damage have they sustained, and who was the jerk who might’ve killed them.

      If I happened to LIKE the comic I read, owned it, and reread it, more time would be taken to gather in those meticulous points admiring the colouring or elements of the page. I think the importance then is to somehow — either with layout, dynamics, etc., to grab the readers attention somehow, and attempt to manipulate the flow of their reading, or their time, to establish what is most important.

  2. scottdouglas says:

    The Batman comparison proves that the color palette and detail has visually matured over time. Although the content requires a greater investment by the artist, I do not think readers’ would consider such extraordinary efforts to be at a deficit for the overall ‘payoff’.
    The golden age of comics informed the reader of events through the means of experimental guidance. Too much script can deter the value of a composition as the reader may find the information overly redundant and unnecessary. To that extent some text may be skimmed or disregarded as readers’ presume the unfolding of events.
    Wordless panels may be glanced at, but that does not necessarily mean that less time has been spent admiring their quality. A comic is read and visually appreciated. To that regard I would infer that the cameo speaks for itself; the material is appealing because the visual serves its own vernacular. Such established shots are iconic and can justly stand-alone.

  3. pandarawr says:

    The affect that text may have on the reader of a comic book is an interesting thought and consideration. I myself am a bigger fan of “wordy” comics since I am still new to the medium, and I feel more comfortable in understanding good writing versus good drawing, but I feel that that it is very much dependent on the piece and who is involved. Alan Moore is comics most renowned modern writer for the comic medium, Stan Lee being his earlier contemporary, but other than that the comic medium is known for its illustrators. To me that means that the image is seen as more important than the words, a sentiment Stan Lee has echoed.

    What I worry about more is the overall sharpness and detail of the new comics. They are better than the older Batman, that seems clear, but do they convey story and ideas better? I wonder if maybe the pendulum has swung to far towards the use of image as not only the main form of story telling, but perhaps the only form on some pages, spreads, and even issues.

    Alexander Janusz

  4. Robyn James says:

    When reading comics, I often feel that I am under-appreciating the artwork. I think I go through stages of serious guilt when reading some comics. While reading detailed works, sometimes I’ll go back and just look at the artwork within the panel because I feel that I rushed things a bit, and didn’t give the work the recognition it so deserved. However, I don’t think that more text should be added to pages specifically for grabbing more attention from the reader. I think that in some respects, adding text for this reason takes away from the image. Images themselves say a great deal, and personally, I think I spend more time on an image without text, than with an image with text, simply because if I’m reading a text, I want to move on to the next page/panel.

  5. Ty Challand says:

    It’s interesting to look at time spent reading, and I think there are more than a few variables that contribute to the duration outside of the detail in images. I agree that’s a large component but I think a variable that weighs just as heavy is the location in the story arc. If I find myself reading a fight scene with scattered dialogue I often skim the dialogue to move on to the next panel. On the other hand if it’s a dialogue driven spot I may have to reread parts to fully comprehend what was said. Another thing may be the character who is talking. Sometimes you just don’t like a certain character (cough Cyclops) so you skim as fast as you can. Overall I think it’s a good thing to watch out for as a writer, don’t but dialogue in front of something going boom.

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